I found myself with a few hours to kill one morning this week with nary a Starbucks in sight. So I stepped into the next best thing - a Whataburger. I knew they'd have coffee, a restroom, air-conditioning, and space for reading and writing the time away. Everything I needed.
"You doing alright, ma'am?" It was the counter lady. "Can I get you a refill on your coffee?"
She carried a tray of ketchup, creamer, and napkins, making the round of tables, even this one with the woman nursing a cup of coffee.
"No, not right now, but thank you," I told her.
"You need something, you let me know."
That happened every few minutes. I tell you what, she and the other ladies working there put every other waiter to shame, myself included, with their smiles and eagerness to be of service.
"You write pretty," another employee paused her sweeping to tell me.
The place was never crowded. Just some workers in khaki shirts and gimme hats, a young couple, a small family. I eavesdropped on a job interview in the booth behind me, and a conversation between the counter lady and a gray-haired gentleman one booth up. He nursed a cup of coffee, just like me.
Lunchtime approached and the smell of burgers and fries drifted to my booth. I had refilled my coffee and sat scribbling on a yellow pad when I saw them walk in, the young dad and his daughter. He was slim, wearing khaki slacks and black-rimmed glasses. The girl was obviously a tomboy; she wore ragged cut-off jeans, a t-shirt, and dirty tennis shoes. Her short brown hair was a mess, tousled by the wind.
They ordered without even a glance at the menu - Whataburgers, French fries, and chocolate shakes. Once at the table, the girl scraped all the veggies off of the patty with a fry before taking a big bite of the burger. Right away she stuffed a few French fries in her mouth and took a slurp of her shake.
Then she smiled at her daddy, and I smiled at the memory, and tears filled my eyes at the fleetness of time.
I stepped to the counter and ordered a burger and fries. I didn't scrape the veggies off this time, if you're wondering, and I ordered tea, not a shake, but the burger tasted just as good as it did on all those long ago Whataburger visits, when I was eight and ten and twelve, sitting across from my daddy.
I'm grateful for things that don't change. And for sweet memories that only need the scent of a burger to appear.
If after reading this, you're asking "What the heck is Whataburger?" then click HERE for more information and the history of this chain. On the home page of the website you'll see what the one in my memory looked like.
For you Austin-ites, or travelers passing through Austin, the one I spent so much time in this week is on the corner of Airport and MLK. Such great service, you feel like you've eaten in a 5-star restaurant!
And of course, when you're through, you say "What a burger!"